Let’s Party store owner Brittany Dutton has seen a trend in costume purchases this year: scary clowns and Frozen characters.
But there is another, more controversial side of Halloween that doesn’t include clowns and Disney characters. It deals with wearing minority culture-related costume accessories associated with minority cultures, such as Native headdresses and sombreros.
Cal Poly MultiCultural Center (MCC) coordinator Sandi Wemigwase explained the problem with wearing these cultural costumes. She called it “cultural appropriation”.
“It’s taking something from another person’s culture — a part of their cultural identity — and not using it appropriately,” Wemigwase said.
Wearing Native headdresses or sombreros is an example of cultural appropriation and a form of racism, Wemigwase said.
“It’s racist because you’re taking your own power and privilege and you’re applying it to their objects and you’re applying it to their customs,” she said. “And you feel like you have the privilege to wear whatever it is you want to wear.”
The Native headdress is relegated exclusively to top leaders of a specific tribal community and worn for religious purposes only. But many who wear the head piece are unaware of its meaning, Wemigwase said.
“Usually, they don’t understand the background or the history with the pieces,” she said. “So when people appropriate that for their own, and they are wearing headdresses and outfits that are supposed to reference Native Americans, they’re making fun of not only what it looks like, but all the history behind it, as well as belittling the ceremonial purposes.”
Wemigwase explained how people often justify wearing these offensive costumes by saying they are honoring a custom or a group of people.
“They’re usually not doing it in a sense of coming from an honorable place, especially if you’re dressing up for a drinking party,” she said. “It’s not like you’re dressing up and going to a cultural wedding. You’re dressing up to go party, as in it’s supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be comical, it’s supposed to be something that is completely inappropriate.”
English junior and Safer student assistant Savannah Evans said that by turning someone’s culture into a costume, individuals assert their culture is normal and all others are not.
“When you wear something that’s appropriated, you’re not usually wearing it to understand the culture better,” Evans said. “You’re wearing it without understanding the struggles and what’s appreciated about that certain custom of that culture.”
Evans advised individuals this Halloween to rethink their costumes and how they might be perpetuating stereotypes of other cultures.
“If you’re questioning whether your costume is racist or sexist, don’t wear it,” she said.
Even though Let’s Party does hold cultural costumes such as Native clothing — according to Dutton, they carry them for children dressing up for Thanksgiving school activities — Dutton agreed Halloween was more about witches and scary things, not donning cultural relics.
“Sometimes you forget what Halloween is about: the scariness,” Dutton said.